Detours, Pau

Posted: September 2, 2017 in Uncategorized
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  Detours (14 rue Latapie, 64000 Pau, Communauté d’Agglomération Pau-Pyrénées, Phone: +33 5 24 36 53 02) is one of the latest most touted new tables of Pau.

In Pau, I did hesitate between traditional food (Chez Olive, Chez Laurette, Henri IV) or the contemporary casual eateries opened by Chefs who have spent long years alongside the greatest Chefs of France (Chef Nicolas Lormeau of Lou Esberit, Chef Jean-Pascal Moncassin at Detours). Not an easy decision as I am partial to those two different types of restaurants, but I am already familiar and do cook traditional french cuisine (from all regions of France) at home, therefore I decided to see what the well trained artisan Chefs had to offer in their casual eateries. My decision was  influenced by the fact that I do already cook classic French food at home, and not contemporary takes on that type of food, therefore I suggest you try their traditional food if you are in Pau.

Chef Jean-Pascal Moncassin worked, in the past, at Michelin starred Michel Sarran in  Toulouse as well as reknown restaurants such as Le Crillon and le Grand Véfour.

I ordered two A la carte  items from:

Jarret de veau en nems croustillant, quinoa aux petits legumes, herbes fraiches. Nems filled with veal, on a bed of quinoa and vegetables/fresh herbs.
The genuinely Vietnamese nem flavour is faithfully replicated, quinoa cooked properly, the vegetables (carrots, radish) featuring a nice crunch. A finely composed healthy dish (no unecessary bold seasoning, but flavour where it needs to be found, as exemplified by the exquisitely seasoned nem, then the lightly seasoned quinoa and vegetables , which was the right thing to do in this case. 7/10

Agneau, epaule confite 36hrs, caviar d’aubergine, legumes de saison (pommes de terre, zucchini, carrottes, champignons) cuits dans le jus de cuisson. Lamb shoulder confit, cooked for 36 hrs. In a separate pot, potatoes/zucchini/ carrots/ mushroom. Timely cooked vegetables and lamb. Eggplant caviar was perfect, the vegetables cooked in a delicious and flawlessly reduced cooking jus. Another fine dish. 7/10

Overall food rating: 7/10 A Chef who knows when and where flavours need to be expressive or subtle, the food tasty.

 

 

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Lou Esberit, Pau

Posted: September 1, 2017 in Uncategorized
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Chef Nicolas Lormeau has honed his skills alongside some of France’s best Chefs: Michel Trama (Aubergade, 2 star Michelin), Gerald Passedat (Petit Nice, 3 star Michelin), Gilles Goujon (Auberge du vieux puits, 3 star Michelin).

They have, in France, many Chefs with 2, 3 star Michelin skills who have decided to open their own venues, and get this: they are there, in the kitchen, cooking for real. A distant dream in many parts of the globe. No wonder France will remain a superpower of the foodie world for a while.

In 2016, Nicolas,  did open his own restaurant, Lou Esberit, in Pau, which style of food can be described as “bistronomy” if you wish, and his talent has since been rewarded with, among other achievements,  a selection in the top best 3 Chefs of the Credit Agricole’s Talents Gourmands Pyrenees/Gascogne (not a light reward in a region with plenty of talented Chefs).

There are several menus (A la Carte, tasting menus, etc). I picked the following two A la carte menu items:

Croustillant de langoustine, fine purée d’une barigoule, queues de langoustines roties, petales d’artichaut frit (crispy and roasted Dublin bay prawns, artichokes mash and chips). I could not enjoy the prawns as they were way too salty. The artichokes mash was fine, but that was not enough as the overall dish lacked sparks (felt generic/average in mouth). 5/10

Filet de rascasse grillee, soupe de Roche et pomme de terre fondante. Grilled scorpion Fish fillets, potatoes and his take on the “bouillabaisse” (which was in a glass and that I had to pour over my fish). Grilled scorpion Fish, one of the fishes  commonly used for a bouillabaisse,  is one of my preferred fish. The fish was cooked properly (retained an ideal amount of moist, firm as it should). not boldly seasoned and that is fine. Some parts were bland, others seasoned, but in this case, I can live with that (as you will pour the bouillabaisse on it, anyways). But his take on the bouillabaisse lacked maritime flavour. I presume it had to come from the fish I would pour the bouillabaisse on…but pouring a bouillabaisse on the fish does not have the same effect as cooking the fish in the bouillabaisse! 6/10

Overall food rating: 5.5/10 On my visit, the Chef tried too hard to be creative, Alas …to not much effect.

Bottom line: I have no doubt that Chef Lormeau is a good Chef. The locals told me he can be great. I even saw an online picture of Michel Guerard paying a visit to him. So he must have been doing great things to be noticed by a heavyweight like Chef Guerard. But the 2 dishes I was having could not testify to that. In cooking, whatever you do, food needs to satisfy. Those 2 dishes failed at that. Service is great, the Chef is one of the friendliest characters of the restaurant industry (great smile, talks to everyone), the restaurant is popular and superbly well located (at a stone throw of the gorgeous Chateau de Pau). Just make that food festive again, Chef! Lou Esberit 8 rue adoue, Pau, France 64000 Phone: +33 9 83 97 58 58 URL: http://www.restaurant-louesberit.com

The same local foodie who did notify me about the recent opening of Tsukuyomi (visited and reviewed here) has also mentioned  that another Japanese  eatery   opened its doors on Avenue du Parc, not far from the corner of Avenue St Viateur.  The name is Cocoro (Addr: 5407 Park Ave, Montreal, Phone:514-303-0332 ).  I checked the web to see if there is any mention of this, online, but no serious/reliable online source has yet mentioned its existence as of the day of my 1st visit (Thursday Aug 17th 2017), with the only two pertinent online mentions of this restaurant being the restaurant’s Google profile and its facebook page,  so I went to find out.

Cocoro all black interior has the looks of a  simple bistro.  It also has a terrace that was not open on the day  of my visit. When you push open their glass door, you are immediately welcomed by a noren. The waitstaff explained that they do not have their alcohol license yet, but  that  it is coming soon.

Remembering the superb and genuinely Japanese donburi   as well as chicken karaage I had at Nozy — which are reviewed here (easily the most “genuinely Japanese” of any donburi and chicken karaage I had in Montreal), I wanted to see how they would fare under Cocoro’s roof.

I started my meal with their Tokyo ramen, which broth is made of  pork and chicken  (the noodles that are used are of the  thin wavy sort), light and yet  flavorful. For those in the know (people who  made ramen at a serious level for a long time), it was evident that lots of skills went into that broth (well judge timing, superb sense of seasoning, great work of the  flavor, etc).  The  waitress explained that the Japanese Chef (born and trained in Tokyo) has just arrived from Japan around 1 month ago and it shows: the seasoning of his broth was as genuinely bold as it is the case with most bowls of tokyo style ramen in Japan, with the necessary kick of salt present (I am insisting on this because lots of food journalists and food  reviewers do inaccurately report saltiness as a fault. They just do not know when saltiness is a lack of judgement and where it should be expected. Saltiness may be the pet peeve of the health-conscious world but culinary-wise, salt is what makes certain dishes great. It is therefore important to remind people that for certain types of ramen, a certain level of  saltiness is required. You take that away, your ramen will be something  else. I mean, if all you can taste in a broth of this quality is just salt, then you have some homework to do before talking about ramen: go, spend years enjoying ramen across Japan, then come back and see if  you are now  able to differentiate “necessary kick of saltiness” from the “oversalty”).  For a ramen bowl in Montreal, this was  impressive as  not one single detail was  spared: the yolk of the egg had the wet-appearing center that a serious ramen fan will look for as it helps the egg melting with the broth, an aspect that’s important as it just makes the ramen tasting better, the texture of the chāshū  チャーシュー  was the best I ever saw in Montreal ,  the noodles were precisely cooked to aldente doneness, the use of   julienne strips of the white  part of a Japanese leek (Shira Negi)– which they did use as a topping for the ramen —  is rare at our local ramenyas.  One benchmark bowl by LOCAL ramen standards. 10/10

Chicken karaage was another demonstration of the great sense of seasoning of the Chef. This time, the seasoning intentionally not strong (there is not just 1 way to make and season chicken karaage and this example was one legit version of a chicken karaage), but well balanced, with a quip, though: some pieces of chicken had a surface that was tough to tear apart. Given the skills on display during this meal and the ensuing one, I would not lose a sleep over that quip, as anyone familiar with advanced Japanese cooking techniques would not fail to observe that the Chef karaage technique is on point (again, regardless of that quip). The only limitation, for this  Chef, will come from the quality of our poultry (it is not bad, and Cocoro is using quality poultry, but it is not as great as the poultry in Japan) – but that is not the problem if this kitchen.

Talking about the quality of the ingredients in Montreal: the owner came to say hello to every client and when she dropped by my table, she said she would like, at some point in the future, to start importing ingredients  from Tokyo’s  Tsukiji market,  wagyu from Japan, etc. I appreciate her ambition but let us  be clear about this: the Montreal foodie scene is not ready for that. I gather that by reading my blog you may think that I dislike our local restaurant scene, and  that it was all logical that I would suggest that our local foodie scene is not ready for superb Japanese ingredients flown in from Japan, but thinking  that way is wrong: I am an untiring  advocate of the best aspects of our foodie scene in a way that I have always bragged about our smoked meat, poutine, cheesecakes.  They are the best in the world. Classic Quebecois cuisine is amazing, and I never miss an opportunity to mention that. In the heydays of Martin Juneau at la Montee, I did not hesitate to notice that he was (BACK THEN) up there with the very best Chefs of this globe. I did the same thing when Martin Picard was cooking. It was also the case for Hughes Dufour (Hughes is still an active Chef and he is now a star  in the competitive and  real world class foodie destination of New York), Jean-Francois Belair when he was working at le Marly and another world class Chef, Chef  Jean-Paul Giroux (who used to be at Cuisine et Dependance). Even today, there are still  local Chefs of which, I keep saying that, in their prime, they are are capable of world class cooking:  Michele Mercuri (Le Serpent), Olivier De Montigny (La Chronique), Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly  (Marconi) . So, NO…I do not dislike our foodie scene. What I cannot stand is the bullshit that surrounds this foodie scene: selling  Montreal as a foodie destination when any serious foodie knows that  it is everything you want..but  NOT  a proper foodie destination. Let us talk between  adults, here: Montreal, you managed to  convince San Pellegrino’s listing of the  top restaurants of the globe that an eatery selling lobster spaghetti should be in its top 100. You are certainly a hero  on the marketing aspect, a big zero foodie-wise. Marketing is important, but what makes a foodie destination serious is its ability of having an effective restaurant scene which performance can justify what is advertised  (which are what Paris/Tokyo/New York/London are about). Montreal has a restaurant and foodie scene that is, in general, at the opposite end  of what is promoted as evidenced by the never ending number of cooks who are more interested by opening restaurants to simply make a buck (when all you do is to parade on TV and you leave your restaurants in the hands of poorly trained cooks, that is the only thought that comes to mind, obviously), cooks who are celebrated as geniuses when the so-called geniuses do not even know how to season their food, etc. When Chef Belair was at le Marly and Michele Mercuri at XO Le Restaurant, they were both cooking world class food, but the Montreal foodie scene never knew what that meant… – Anyways, I like Montreal and do believe that when you like something, you have to be honest about it. And that is what I am doing. And to be honest, the great fish of the Tsukiji market +  best wagyu of Japan ..that  is not a good idea in the context of Montreal because the only two local restaurants that are selling the best fish and red meat from abroad are not “mainstream” restaurants, they cater to a “niche” of people driving luxurious cars and smoking expensive cigars… that is the only way they could “survive” in the context of the Montreal restaurant scene because the local foodie scene does not know how to appreciate that.

Back to the main topic, my meal at Cocoro. Impressed by the skills on display during my initial meal, I went back the following evening (there are currently just 4 food items on their menu. The 4 food items that are reviewed in my post. The staff explained that there will be  more items, soon,  in September):

Kaisen Donburi (sashimi rice bowl) is easy … right? Just rice, some pieces of raw seafood, some salmon roe, some basic toppings. Those in the know, those who really  did it, those people  know that is not that easy. Well, it is easy to make an ordinary bowl of rice, for sure. A bit more difficult to find Chefs who pull this  off brilliantly. What I was having was one of the best Kaisen Donburi I ever had in Montreal, the Chef’s skills so evident in the superbly well executed savory tamago (even in Tokyo, it does not always  look that refined and appealing to the eyes…)  he did cut in small pieces, dices  of fresh quality squid, salmon, tuna revealing great knife skills and lots of finesse in the overall execution. The rice was also tasty, which is not always the case at plenty of  Japanese restaurants across  North America.  This was a reminder that simple food like this can dazzle….only in skilled hands.  Even the accompanying sweet soya was of nice quality. Beautiful skills! 9/10

I also ordered their udon made in a mix of  bechamel sauce / dashi bouillon, a Franco Japanese offering that is right now trendy in Tokyo. You have your  proper classic French Bechamel, not as rich as your old school French bechamel sauce,  therefore “lightened”  and that works well with the dashi bouillon. In the dish, there were also some morsels of quality chicken that were cooked not too tender, not too firm (for proper chew).  As it was the case during the two meals, the attention to details was remarkable (the doneness of the noodles always well timed so that it is never mushy, never too hard, the noodles always holding well to their respective sauces or broths, the timing of the cooked vegetables was also well mastered, resulting in  vegetables of vivid textures/colors..not a common feature at our local restaurants). A successful dish 8/10

Overall food rating: 8/10 A TRUELY skilled Chef who masters the fundamentals of cooking well (salty where it has to, tasting mild or strong exactly where need be, great sense of timing, great sense of textures/temperatures/colors, great palate, etc).

Bottom line: Culinary-wise I now have two “preferred” Japanese eateries in Montreal. Cocoro and Nozy. Eventhough the Japanese presence is more serious than it used to be,  on our local restaurant scene, Nozy and Cocoro are, right now, among the rare restaurants that seem to deliver the flavors that will get you, in Montreal,  as close as it’s possible to the motherland (which is not a light  feature when you consider  that you are located at 10,383 kms away from it).

What I think days later: Let us see how Montreal will react to yet another good Chef. Are we going to pursue with that bad habit of trying to alter what others have been doing successfully for ages (Yes, Montreal, you know what I mean by that! Some  local Japanese eateries  were great   and you started complaining about the bold genuine flavors of  their  food. They  did adapt to you and  were not the  same anymore!!). So if one day this Chef is not who he  is anymore , you will have just our laughable clueless foodie scene to blame. And to the Montreal foodie scene, I have this to add:  you should start ditching your  “it is too good to be true” mentality as that is making your foodie scene “tasting bland” btw!!! … In Tokyo, Paris, London, New York, they think  that “it can truely always be consistently great”, no wonder why they are world  class foodie destinations! Mind you, they have the “collective” mindset to make that happen …

Knowing my profound  admiration  for  Japanese food, a local foodie friend has notified me about the recent opening of two Japanese eateries in Montreal and I went trying both: Tsukuyomi (current review) was visited on Wednesday Aug 16   and I did dine at  Cocoro (reviewed here) on Thursday Aug 17.

Tsukuyomi (Addr: 5207 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, QC Phone:  514-273-8886) is located on St Laurent Street, almost at the  corner of Fairmount. They are essentially making ramen : a veggie tonkotsu Pork bone broth + veggie topping), Chashu tonkotsu (Porkbone broth + braised pork belly topping), which is what I picked, a chicken tonkotsu (Pork bone broth + boiled chicken topping) as well as a Vegan ramen (Vegan broth + vegetable topping). Each bowl costing $13. Sides are Edamame (salted green soya beans) $3,  a daily Vegan salad $4, Goma-ae boiled spinach with sesame sauce 4$, Tokowasa wasabi flavored octopus with nori seaweed 4$, Mini Chashu Don (Braised pork on top of the rice), steamed rice $2.  They also have Sapporo/La fin du monde beers as well as Kocha Japanese milk tea/Matcha honey green tea/Ramune Japanese soda/Sencha green tea.

The   woody  interior mimics faithfully the North American idea of a casual Japanese eatery, and   there are seats with partial views on the opened kitchen.

What I ate:

Takowasa – Wasabi flavored octopus with nori seaweed. Pieces of octopus marinated in a sugar/wasabi mixture. Had the wasabi be of the “grated root”  type  (which you will NOT  find at a  restaurant in Montreal, this would have been a hit. Alas, as expected, the wasabi paste found in Montreal, which was used here, is way too pungent to complement the flavor of octopus.

Pork bones based Tonkotsu ramen was   second to the one at Yokato Yokabai, with a broth that was not  as deep and complex in flavor as I wished, but certainly pleasant with some Ok  chashu and semi firm boiled egg yolk that I , as well as plenty of ramen fans, prefers with a wet-appearing center (which I was missing, here) for the simple reason that it tastes better when it melts with the soup (the main reason why ramen has an egg in it). Still, I prefer this ramen than what you will get at most   ramenyas  in town.

Overall food rating: 6/10 (Categ: ramenya in Montreal) The Chef is Japanese and it shows: the food has genuine Japanese flavor. That said, he should use better judgement (true, the wasabi marinated octopus is a great idea, but if you do not have the right wasabi, do not insist on it…).  I will go back as it remains one of the rare bowls of ramen I liked  in Montreal (behind Cocoro / Ramen Misoya / Yokato Yokabai).

 

What is HOT and what is NOT right now in Montreal : Right now, ONLY the few eateries with artisan Chefs (Chefs REALLY working in their kitchen) worth a detour, in town, namely  Le Serpent, La Chronique,  Nozy, Marconi. Pay big respect to Toque! as well as Le Club Chasse et Peche!  I went to Toque! twice. The 1st time was superb, the second just Ok but Toque! is certainly a destination restaurant by Montreal restaurant standards. LCCP was amazing under Chef  Claude Pelletier, not as stellar as in those days, anymore,  but it remains a top tier  table for Montreal.

BIG UP to the best poutine (but NOT the one at la Banquise…Nah!!))  and smoked smeat (Reuben’s Deli is still one of the very best in town) in the world, their  happening is right here in YUL! Ou bagels, our cheesecakes are also the best in the world.

According to the latest local buzz, Manitoba/L’Express/Impasto/Le Vin Papillon/Cadet/Lawrence/Le Mousso/Hopkins/Bar George and Tuck Shop  are doing a fine job lately. I have not been to Kitchen Galerie in a long time, but most foodies I know seem to continue to find it good.

At the end of the day, whatever the local hype is  trying to sell to you, the wisest thing to do is to remember that the restaurant  scene in Montreal  continues, in general,  to be a pale copy of what was done, at least 2 to 5 years ago, in the true foodie destinations found abroad. That is the TRUTH!  You know…when you manage to convince an International list of restaurants like the “San Pellegrino’s top 100 best restaurants in the world”  that your best restaurant is that one that’s selling spaghetti found at the supermarket, served with some lobster (I just came from Greece and most  casual eateries do serve  lobster spaghetti because it is easy to sell, but somehow, in Montreal that was enough to be a revelation ), you truely are a joke! And it is not even funny…

Anyways,  the Montreal foodie scene is hardly going to be a serious foodie scene for at least another 10 years, easily, as our best Chefs have long abandoned their stoves (Martin Picard) or  have simply deserted  Montreal (Jean-François Bélair, Hughes Dufour, Jean-Paul Giroux). Of that generation of gifted Chefs, there is Martin Juneau who is still around, especially on TV, but Martin is not the brilliant Chef that he used to be in his heyday at La Montée (in those days, Martin was easily a world class Chef…BUT that was 10 years ago!!!).

When you look at the restaurant reviews on this blog, my reviews have  covered restaurants that are mainly abroad . There are actually 10  times more restaurants reviewed on this log that are not located in Montreal than there are from Montreal. On a blog which focuses on what’s supposed to stand out in Montreal, that speaks for itself.

 

Being a critic is NOT as easy as some may think. Far from that. I am not talking about the common restaurant-friendly food write-ups wildly found online.  I am talking about serious ppl who are willing to say things the way they are, and most importantly, who bother about knowing what they are talking about.

Not to sound pretentious (btw, as explained elsewhere on this blog, I do not have the pretention of being a food writer or food blogger. I am not. I am sharing my dining experiences of an anonymous/normal diner with foodies who help me find eateries abroad when I travel and this is just sharing back with them. As it is easier to simply put that on a website, it was all natural to post my experiences on a blog. That is it. Nothing more, nothing less), but my 20 years of analyzing the restaurant industry helped me composing the following list of the characteristics of  a great food critic (again, as I just mentioned, I am not a critic):

1.Are you capable to separate your analysis of the food from your feelings of the dining experience?  On MY blog, an amateurish blog, written by someone who is not a food critic, I gave a 9/10 for the food of a restaurant of which I hated the dining experience. In my post, both feelings were clearly expressed while avoiding being unfair to the kitchen (not their fault if the front house is amateurish). If an amateurish food blog like mine can do this, needless to stress that more is expected from a food critic.

2.Do you know what you are talking about? It took me 25 years of familiarizing myself with Brazilian food before deciding to review a Brazilian restaurant. And by familiarizing, I meant eating serious mom and pop traditional brazilian food for 25 yrs. And that is food that is very close to the food I grew up with, btw! 20 yrs of eating serious / genuine Russian and Romanian food  are still not enough, for me to decide reviewing both cuisines. And we are talking here about someone who is cooking seriously since his tender childhood. Again, not to brag, but to make the point that if an amateurish critic like me goes to such extent, you can imagine what needs to be expected as the minimun  to be a REAL critic/ food journalist/food writer.  Most food journalists / food writers review Japanese food when the closest they got to Japan was to drink Sake. They are as clueless about most cuisines. I recall a food journalist putting down a dessert perfumed with rose, at an afghan restaurant in Montreal, because for her the fragrance of rose is just good for soap. A true ignorant disguised as a critic. Worst, most of them are known to the food industry, therefore you can easily imagine how the way they are treated has nothing to do with what the normal/anonymous diner will experience, making their opinions utterly useless to someone who wants to get a serious idea of the reality that he will face at the restaurant he chose to dine at

3.Do you feel the need to please an audience? Most do. But that is right there the very first sign that you are not a serious critic.

4.Do you really know what needs to be assessed? It is an important question to ask yourself as a critic. As an example, many so-called professional critics  do assess   classic food  as “tired” only because they do not know how to differentiate an average classic dish from its better versions. They basically just associate excitement with novelty, and do not have the proper knowledge to dig deep in anything that is not ..novel. There is also a lot of ignorance about textures/doneness/temperatures: your meat is tender? then it is good. Your meat has a firmer consistency, then it is not, etc. And they do that regardless of the type of cuisine they are assessing, which is the perfect recipe to spread inaccuracies.  A good critic SHOULD BE INFORMED about  the notion of doneness/textures/temperatures that is proper to the cuisine that he is assessing. Or else. what is he assessing??

My last visit at le Serpent (Addr: 357 rue Prince, Montreal; Phone: 514-316-4666) was a long time ago. It was a big hit, when it opened, and their Chef, Michele Mercuri, is a Chef capable of world class cooking, but I was curious to see if it is still one of the better tables in Montreal. Past meals are reviewed here and here.

Remembering the dazzling all’onda  risotti of Chef Michele Mercuri, I had to order the seafood risotto again. Every Chef has his touch and with true focus on the matter, you won’t fail to connect a dish to his creator. I doubt Michele has cooked this one, as it was not as dazzling as only himself can make it. But hey…it was really good,  all’onda and delicious. Whoever has cooked this risotto did a fine job. 7/10

Lamb was cooked sous vide. Again, seasoned really well (meaning judiciously, with enough punch/excitement). Wild peas and a  very minty sort of “pesto” that both added to the enjoyment of the dish. Delicious and really well conceived. This was a daily offering, which I suggest you always order at any restaurant where the Chef is skilled  (the case here) as, naturally, it is the opportunity for his skills  to shine through 7.5/10

Strawberry mousse, white chocolate, rhubarb and strawberry sorbet tasted fine and  I can see, now,  that  Pastry Chef Masami Waki is  better than what I initially thought —  (she is a consultant here, therefore not present at the restaurant but the kitchen brigade did assemble her creations and they are of a good pastry standard).

Overall food rating: 7.5/10 A reliable standard of cooking that continues to deliver some of the better restaurant food in town. Seasoning/flavors, everything was on point. And yes,  Pastry Chef Masami Waki’s fans were right … she is more talented than what my assessment of her take on the Tiramisu (check that out here) would suggest. Eventhough Pastry chef  Masami Waki is some sort of “consultant” for this house, whatever she is asking that kitchen brigade to do/replicate/mimmick/assemble… sounds right (except for her tiramisu, it seems…). It will not dazzle, but it feels right.

Bottom line: I was  not floored, this time,  and I kinda found the bill a bit too “ambitious” for what was on display, but I will come back here before returning to plenty of popular local eateries that I tried recently, which is a comment that I have rarely appended to my restaurant reviews in Montreal.

What I think days later: It is against Chef Michele Mercuri usual standards that I assessed this meal and in that regard, it was good, not startling. But this kind of “good” is already a lot by our local restaurant standards, standards that are as laughable as that local restaurant that just opened and that I recently reviewed and that every single so called local food expert is raving about but that can’t even season its food correctly. Yeah, I know, lol, that’s Montreal: you can be a culinary genius here, without any knowledge of the basics of cooking. At least, of Le Serpent, I can say that I am not referring to them when I have to remind myself that we have an amateurish restaurant scene . Le Serpent is a great restaurant by Montreal standards. It could be even better, but in Montreal, that would not be necessary.

A recent review of food journalist and ex Chef Thierry Daraize about Hopkins (his review on Hopkins, here) contained enough positive material to  encourage me to reserve a table here.

It would take a seriously naive person to think that the  “ultimately  reliable” food journalist or food rating exists. As one should know better, opinions, ratings and  taste are subjective, O B V I O U S L Y!… Thierry is one serious food journalist who, to the contrary of his colleagues, has been a Chef, too. I find  Thierry to be generally weak when it comes to assessing tropical food (his rave review about Lavenderia contrasts with MY OPINION  about that same restaurant, although, to be honest…MOST of the local restaurateurs are always at their best ONLY when a poster-diner is at their restaurant – the MAIN REASON  why the local restaurant scene can’t compete with serious foodie scenes like New York, Paris, Tokyo, London, etc ), but the best (of all local food journalists)  at judging French-based food (the food he cooked as a Chef and therefore, knows the best).

The perfect observation that even “experts” like the food journalists are useless on the aspect of assessing restaurants: I have been an active observer of the local restaurant scene for the past 18 years. In 18 years, the local food journalists were useful ONLY in two situations: the discovery of Chef Michele Mercuri (indeed, what a giant when he is in his prime! In his prime, Michele can easily compete with the best Chefs of this globe. Easily!) and Chef Jean-François Bélair when he was at Le Marly (now closed). It is Thierry Daraize that made us discover  Chef Jean-François Bélair, in this article. The  lack of success of Le Marly  was just another reminder that it is accurate to submit that the foodie scene in Montreal is one of world’s most clueless foodie scenes. What Chef Belair was doing at Le Marly would have impressed world class foodie scenes like New York/Paris/Tokyo/London. But in Montreal, the local foodie scene lacked (and, continues to) the  necessary experience/knowledge (even, right now, which means … 6 years after getting to that same conclusion…) appreciate that. A third world foodie scene.

Hopkins is a beautiful small contemporary restaurant. It is chic, hip and yet not stuck-up at all.  The decor is very bright and white with a superb penetration of natural light. Truely classy / tasteful with a superb service.

I sat at the bar and picked the 5 courses tasting menu:

First, some homemade charcuterie. Charcuteries — as it is the case at the big majority of our local restaurants —- are not at the level of a fine charcuterie in France or Italy, for the sake of comparison, but you will  definitely get to munch on some pleasant charcuterie, which was the case here 6/10

Clams/black beans puree – Clams of superb quality, from masssachusetts. This featured some necessary bold kick of saltyness to lift up the maritime flavor of the clam. The accompanying black beans puree seasoned exquisitely. Top shelf food item. 9/10

Pecorino/ravioli/beacon – A runny egg encased in a homemade ravioli. So close ( rich and delicious, as one would expect from some runny egg inside a ravioli of proper al dente texture),   yet ..so far (way too much  salt and that distracted from appreciating this dish). This was an easy trap (beacon is salty, pecorino is salty, etc…but that is exactly when and where   skills should shine…

Artic char (omble chevalier)/beets- montee au beurre – again, the fish was way too salty even for someone, like me, who loves salt. The beets were timely cooked and tasted as if they came from a serious michelin star destination –  such was its quality. 8/10 for the dazzling beets. But how do you rate a superb piece of fish (masterful doneness, dazzling quality) that is sadly as salty as a bowl of seawater? Seasoning is the most important skill in a kitchen, obviously, but during this meal, someone forgot how important it was….

Chocolate fondant/expresso – the idea is original, by the standards of our local restaurants, but a chocolat fondant and some expresso need to dazzle in the mouth of someone, like me, who is easily impressed by anything that has expresso in it. This tasted ordinary and it was frustrating to get to that conclusion as it was easy to see that some thoughts were put in it.

Overall food rating: 5.5/10 This was an inconsistent performance, culinary-wise. On one hand, there were obvious flashes of brilliance (the clams, the beets).  Alas,  that was marred by plenty of oversalted food items.

Bottom line: Somehow, you could see that they  have the potential to beat the best in town. For now, whoever has cooked my food needs to go back to the basics of cooking and learn to season his food judiciously.